Strategic Exchange - December 2011

By Kemp Harr

 

I don’t think anybody was really surprised that the super-committee couldn’t reach an agreement last month on how to reduce the nation’s debt and move this country forward. The deck was stacked against any compromise when the group was first assembled. Instead of appointing moderates, both sides picked representatives that lean on the outer extremes of what each of the two parties stand for. Now we get to watch the blame game as each party tries to blame the other for the lack of compromise.

Those of you who are tuning this out and discounting the magnitude of this situation as being just another round of Washington politics need to take heed because it does have a direct effect on the viability of our nation’s long-term health. Washington is out of control and as voters we have a responsibility to pull this process out of the ditch. Republican House Speaker John Boehner is as guilty as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and neither one of these public servants has our best interests at heart. 

The floorcovering industry is full of entrepreneurs who passionately have discovered their niche and have enthusiastically used their own sweat to fill it. Recovery from this recession will come when we let people keep and use the fruits of their labor. We must encourage productivity but not subsidize it. If we believe in the same free market economy that has brought us this far, we need to vote for the leaders who understand the limited role of government and vow to curb its frightful spending habits.

Carpet and the Truth about Allergens
I picked up the Chattanooga Sunday paper and read an article in the real estate section that quoted Dr. Dana V. Wallace, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Allergists recognize that carpet is a huge collection net for dust and dust mites, live and dead insects and their waste products, mold and animal dander. The newest research shows that carpet removal from the home will reduce the allergen load.” 

But just a week earlier, I interviewed Alexander Collot D’Escury with Desso about some new Netherlands research conducted by TNO that proves that carpet is actually the best floorcovering for patients who suffer from asthma and allergies due to the fact that it absorbs the fine dust particulates and removes them from the breathing zone. The TNO research actually validates a study by the DAAB (Deutscher Allergie- und Asthmabend e.V., the German Allergy and Asthma Society) in 2005 that proved that smooth surface flooring markedly increases the fine dust load in indoor rooms. The study goes on to say that the selection of a flooring material—like carpet—that attracts dust and removes it from the breathing zone is an essential preventive aspect. 

It is interesting to note that while the remedies are at complete polar opposites—with one group touting removal and the other advocating the use of carpet over any other surface—they both agree that carpet attracts and retains fine particulates. Those arguing for the carpet removal cite the fact that carpet has been proven to be a sink for allergens. At the same time, carpet advocates claim that carpet’s propensity to hold fine particles keeps them out of the air, thereby reducing the allergens in the breathing zone.

It’s quite possible that the issue is more nuanced. For instance, the real issue may well have to do with carpet cleaning. If a carpet captures allergens and is rarely cleaned—and to a certain extent this argument also holds true for hard surface flooring—then it’s more likely to release allergens into the air when there’s activity on the carpet. However, that would also mean that carpet is an excellent allergens filter, and that regular carpet cleaning may well be one of the most effective ways of removing allergens from the environment. So whose advice should an asthma and allergy patient take, Dr. Wallace here in the U.S. or the DAAB in Germany? When I contacted the Carpet and Rug Institute to see what activity was being done to get to the truth on this topic, I was told that due to recent budget cuts, this was no longer one of its focus items. 

Carpet Tile passes Broadloom in Contract Dealer Survey
For the past several years, carpet tile has been creeping up on broadloom as we surveyed contract dealers and asked them what their number one surface category was. This year carpet tile blew by broadloom and it now represents one third of their business compared to broadloom, which accounts for 26% of business. Back in 2002, broadloom commanded 40% of their business. I find it very fitting that we announce this milestone in the same issue that we choose to honor Ray Anderson, who had the vision to recognize the market potential for carpet tile. 

It’s been almost 40 years since the first major U.S. carpet tile installation at the 60 story John Hancock Tower in Boston. Initially driven by the move in the late 70s toward open office environments, the tile sector has continued to take marketshare—first in the office sector but more recently in all of the vertical commercial sectors including healthcare.

Raised access flooring has certainly been a major driver as more and more companies have discovered the benefit for cable access and more recently for under floor climate control. The LEED building movement has also had an impact as interior walls have come down so that natural light from the side windows can pass through the work area unobstructed. More recently, aesthetic improvements have drawn designers who appreciate its visual versatility and design statement. 

Economics and sustainability have also played a role as the price gap between carpet tile and broadloom has narrowed and manufacturers have reduced tile’s footprint and perfected its reclamation processes. Ease of installation is also a major factor. Interior spaces can be remodeled with less down time, the product is easier to handle, and now several of the market leaders have developed a glueless installation system.

It will be interesting to see if modular carpet tile is able to penetrate more of the residential carpet and rug market.

Carpet and Rug Institute’s Annual Meeting
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the Carpet and Rug Institute held its annual meeting and announced its new board. One noteworthy addition to the board is Bob Shaw, whose company, Engineered Floors, is one of the newest members. This puts Bob Shaw back in the power group that he often led as the former head of Shaw Industries. 

Unfortunately, attendance at the meeting this year was light, at around 35 to 40 people. It is interesting to note how much this organization has changed over the years. Back in the mid-70s the CRI held a meeting in Miami at the Diplomat Hotel that attracted over 1,500 people. And for many years that followed, the CRI meeting was the highlight of the year. Granted there were as many as 300 carpet mills and many of the yarn and component suppliers saw this big cocktail party of a meeting as a great venue to rub shoulders with the mill owners. It’s been 11 years now since the CRI spent $20 million reminding the consumer that carpet just feels better.

Today, in a consolidated marketplace, the CRI has 24 mill members and about 90 associate members. Some of what the CRI used to manage has been taken on by other trade organizations. The IICRC cleaning and inspection organization (which recently changed its name to The Clean Trust) has taken the leadership role in carpet installation standards. The Carpet America Recovery Effort, which was formed by the CRI but is now run as a separate organization, manages the issues around reclamation. This year, the CRI decided to donate its headquarters building to a local college and next year plans to move closer to the middle of downtown Dalton. 

As we have watched several carpet mills close their doors in recent months, it is also sad to watch the CRI cut its budget and reduce its headcount. One casualty from the 9% cut announced at the annual meeting was Frank Hurd, who served as COO. Frank, who retired from the Army as a colonel after 27 years, has devoted the last 11 years at the CRI to focusing on government issues, formatting CARE (as its chairman of the board) and daily operations. Frank’s last assignment with the military was as the Army’s liaison to the U.S. Senate, which made him well suited to handle CRI’s legislative issues. We will miss Frank’s friendly face and operational leadership at CRI. 

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

Copyright 2011 Floor Focus 



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